The 2011 CIHE Engineering & Manufacturing Task Force, established last year by the Council for Industry and Higher Education in the UK, in its inaugural report, is urging universities to share ideas freely. Their motto: « Powering Up; Business and Universities Collaborating for Manufacturing Competitiveness in the New Industrial Revolution ».

The idea is to ask « UK universities to open their knowledge banks and to give more of their ideas away free of charge ». They claim that, « in spite of many successes, universities are spending more than £50 million a year patenting ideas, many of which are commercially worthless ».

To me, this looks like as a total rip-off. And, in addition, it is surfing on the more and more successful wave of Open Access, of which I happen to be a strong supporter. But this is a distorted view of open access, that is taking us back a long way, to the happy times for industry, when data produced by universities were freely transferred to industry for peanuts.

This is not what Open Access is all about! Open access does not interfere with intellectual property. If any patent has to be taken, whether you publish in the traditional mode or in Open access does not make the slightest difference. It is shocking to realise that a respectable institution like CIHE is trying to take advantage of a major revolution in scientific research to sow confusion among researchers and university managers on an essential topic. Although it is true that research done with public resources should be made publicly available, this by no means precludes the other necessary precautions in terms of patenting and licensing. It is all too easy to jump in now and, based on a trendy concept of open access, ask that all walls fall and just help oneself in a free market of scientific data.

As I said, I am a strong supporter of Open Access, but in a very well defined context, where intellectual property rights are perfectly secured. Universities have given away for too long the profit of their work and discoveries. For some time now, they have secured that quite well. They have reacted strongly against crude exploitation by some sharks in the publishing market, this is not the time to relinquish all this progress and be lured by the term « open access » giving away the fruits of their labour.